The NSW Police Force, together with Chinese authorities and Australian universities, is warning about an elaborate ‘virtual kidnapping’ phone scam targeting Chinese students studying in the country.
This year, eight such incidents have been reported to police, with scammers successfully obtaining $3.2-million in ransom payments.
Incidents of a similar nature have been reported to international law enforcement agencies and netted millions of dollars from victims around the world.
Victims duped into faking their own kidnappings
According to a statement from NSW Police, ‘virtual kidnapping’ is a sophisticated extortion scam that involves young victims faking their own kidnappings following phone calls from fraudsters – who then demand ransom payments for their safe release from relatives.
“Investigators have been told that initial contact is made through a phone call from someone usually speaking in Mandarin and claiming to be a representative from a Chinese authority, such as the Chinese Embassy, consulate or police,” the statement said.
The caller then convinces the victim that they have been implicated in a crime in China, or that their identity has been stolen, and that they must pay a fee to avoid legal action, arrest or deportation.
Criminals use technology to mask their location
Using technology to mask their physical locations, scammers encourage victims to continue communications through various encrypted applications such as WeChat and WhatsApp.
The victim is then threatened or coerced into transferring large amounts of money into unknown offshore bank accounts.
In some instances, victims are convinced to fake their own kidnappings – known as a ‘virtual kidnapping’.
Victims told to cease contact with family
Scammers instruct victims to cease contact with their family and friends, rent a hotel room and take photographs or video recordings that depict them bound and blindfolded. These files are then shared with the victim’s relatives overseas.
The caller will continue to make threats and ransom demands until they are unable to obtain any further payments, often resulting in the victim’s family making contact with police.
Chinese authorities asked to warn their citizens
State Crime Command Director, Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett, said NSW police have engaged with the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulate in Sydney to warn the community of such scams.
“Virtual kidnappings are designed to take advantage of people’s trust in authorities and have developed considerably over the last decade by transnational organised crime syndicates,” Bennett stated.
“While these phone calls appear to be random in nature, these scammers seem to be targeting vulnerable members of the Chinese-Australian community.”